Islamic State Profiles the Man Who Led the Last Stand of the Caliphate

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 September 2021

Al-Naba 304, page 10

The 304th edition of Al-Naba, the Islamic State’s (IS) weekly newsletter, published on 16 September, mostly consists of reports from the various wilayats (provinces) about military activities: at the Centre in Iraq and Syria, in Egypt, Nigeria, and even further south in Africa, in the Congo. Notably IS keeps quiet about Afghanistan in Al-Naba 304, perhaps related to the series of attacks by the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province (ISKP) over the weekend: ISKP is often silent before planned attacks. Al-Naba 304 devotes pages ten and eleven to a profile of a veteran Iraqi jihadist, Abu Umar al-Khlifawi, who led the jihadists for a time in the final pocket of the caliphate at Baghuz, Syria, despite previous injuries that nearly cost him his hand and blinded him in one eye, before he trekked on foot for a month back to Iraq and ended his life as the military emir of Fallujah. A summary of that profile is below.

Abu Umar was born in Umm Najm, near Taji, north of Baghdad, in 1405 AH [September 1984 – September 1985], Al-Naba reports.

Al-Naba says Abu Umar “joined the ranks of the mujahideen early”, indeed “during the Crusader invasion of Mesopotamia”, but this does not seem to be quite true since he joined the Islamic State movement a year after the invasion, probably in early 2004.[1]

Abu Umar acquired a reputation for skill in the area north of Baghdad where he was engaged in insurgent activity, says Al-Naba, and “he was one of the first mujahideen who hastened to pledge allegiance to Shaykh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi”, the Jordanian founder of IS, whose real name was Ahmad al-Khalayleh.

Zarqawi was killed in June 2006 but “Abu Umar continued on this path until God blessed the mujahideen by declaring the Islamic State of Iraq,” says Al-Naba, at which point “he hastened to pledge allegiance to its [new] emir, Shaykh Abu Umar al-Baghdadi”, the former policeman whose real name was Hamid al-Zawi.

Abu Umar al-Khlifawi “was appointed as the leader of one of the detachments (al-mafariz) operating in the Shaykh Amer area”, a village close to his home-base on the road to Mosul. The jihadists were under pressure from the U.S.-led Coalition and the Iraqi government at this time, but Abu Umar’s unit inflicted casualties, particularly with roadside bombs targeting their vehicles, says Al-Naba.

“When the Awakening (Sahwat) of apostasy and betrayal appeared in Iraq”, Abu Umar became a wanted man, and “decided to leave his area”, according to Al-Naba, though Abu Umar “did not compromise his religion” and continued with “security operations” against the Coalition and the government.

Abu Umar was arrested in early 2008 “during an air landing of the American forces on his house” and “stayed in Bucca prison for three-and-a-half years”, being released in late 2011,[2] on the eve of the American departure, going straight back to “his path and jihad”: “His brothers assigned him to lead one of the battalions (al-kataib) in Wilayat Shamal Baghdad [IS’s North Baghdad province], and he remained a leading leader of the mujahideen throughout the period of tamkeen”, a term literally meaning “empowerment”, referring to the capture and governance of territory.

It was in this period—we can assume 2012 to 2013—that, so Al-Naba tells us, “God ordained that an airplane [should] bombard him with a missile”. Abu Umar “was hit in one of his hands, and the doctors decided to amputate it, but he refused, and continued to treat his hand until God granted him a cure”.

Abu Umar was sent “with his battalion to the province of Fallujah”, says Al-Naba; this must have been in December 2013. By the early days of January 2014, Fallujah was under Islamic State rule. Abu Umar “carried out the task with his brothers in the most perfect way, and his brothers were impressed by his goodness and his bravery”, according to Al-Naba.

Abu Umar “remained in Fallujah until the Rafida and apostates laid siege to the city”, presumably referring to early 2016. The Naba account, of course, has every incentive to portray the anti-IS forces that recaptured the city in the worst possible light, accusing them of “indiscriminate bombardment”, but this is not wholly inaccurate. During the fighting, according to Al-Naba, Abu Umar was struck by a mortar shell and “lost his sight for five months, until God restored one of his eyes to him”.

While injured, Abu Umar was physically moved out of Fallujah into the broader Wilayat al-Furat (Euphrates province), which spanned the Iraq-Syria border, and was moved to administrative duties, which apparently “lasted for seven months, during which he safeguarded the interests of the Muslims and their rights”.

The “longing” for the battlefield continued, however, and soon Abu Umar was allowed back on rabat duty, leading a battalion around Al-Bukamal, says Al-Naba. As the caliphate was ground down, Abu Umar moved to Baghuz to lead the final pocket of resistance, using snipers, among other things. Abu Umar left Baghuz many months before its final collapse in March 2019,[3] heading back to Iraq, a journey that took him a month on foot, according to Al-Naba.

Once back in Iraq, Abu Umar took up the post of deputy emir of Wilayat Fallujah and initiated guerrilla-terrorist operations around Karma, a town that had been reconquered in mid-2015, a year before Fallujah. Reactivating operations in the Karma area was one of the greatest achievements of this period, says Al-Naba, and Abu Umar was “its foundation stone” (hajar al-asas).

Abu Umar and his men began a series of attacks behind enemy lines around Karma, causing great panic in the area, by Al-Naba’s account, leading the government to recruit a series of spies and target him for assassination, more than once. Abu Umar prevailed over these attempts and went on to be a kind of surveyor of the “provinces”, including sending jihadist forces to the zone south of Baghdad.

Abu Umar then reached the peak of his seniority, being appointed as general military emir of Fallujah, a recognition of his effectiveness and good leadership, according to Al-Naba.

Abu Umar met his end in an ambush by Iraqi troops after he and “a detachment of his brothers [went to] launch an attack on one of the barracks of the Rafidi army in the Anaz area”, south of Fallujah, seemingly successfully—Al-Naba says the jihadists managed to enter the base “and kill those in it”.

“The example of Abu Umar al-Khlifawi brings back to this umma the memory of the first conquerors, such as Khalid [ibn al-Waleed] and Al-Qaqa [ibn Amr al-Tamimi]”, concludes Al-Naba, men who waged war in the cause of God and against His enemies, securing “victory for Islam, which does not triumph without jihad.”

 

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NOTES

[1] The date given is 1425 AH, which corresponds to dates between February 2004 and February 2005.

[2] Al-Naba says Abu Umar was arrested in 1429 AH [January – December 2008] and released in 1432 AH [December 2010 – October 2011], spending three-and-a-half years in prison. For those two dates to be compatible, Abu Umar must have been arrested between January and April of 2008, and released between July and October 2011.

[3] Date given is 1439 AH: September 2017 – September 2018.

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